This is one of the first "editorials" I wrote about a year and a half ago, though I know quite a bit of what I write could all into that category...sort of. ;) This is an updated version. Anyhow, without further adieu, a topic that became the hot discussion subject online in the Arabian show horse world: Scored Halter classes.
One of my major pet peeves for many years has been the trend we have seen on a continuing metamorphosis to emphasize how well a horse shows as opposed to judging them on their actual structure, conformation and movement, which is of course what we’re actually supposed to be judging Halter (in the Arabian breed what we call Breeding or Gelding In Hand) classes on. Right?
However, it became a question of when you bring a spectacular specimen into the Halter ring at an Arabian horse show and the horse just stands there refusing to “show”, you’re not going to do well, particularly at the higher level shows, no matter how nice your horse is. You could lead as perfect a horse as possible with spectacular movement, but no show, no ribbon.
Okay, I get it that we’re talking about a “horse show” here, and I love a well trained and shown horse as much as the next person, but honestly, it should never be more important to have your horse trained to tighten up, stretch his neck and act like he’s scared to death of you than how well he is put together and can move. Other breeds don’t need that, not even the breeds who are exhibited similarly such as Saddlebreds, Andalusians and Morgans. Why us?
Back in October of 2006 a resolution was brought forth at the annual AHA Convention to implement a means of scoring our Halter classes based on certain attributes of the horse, including movement, as opposed to continuing on with the status quo. Implementation was delayed, however, because a segment of the Halter industry (trainers and owners) were against it and wanted to be given an opportunity to formulate a means by which to rescind the earlier resolution.
By the 2007 AHA Convention, the Arabian Horse Association of Arizona (sponsoring club of the annual Scottsdale show) came up with a resolution to rescind the use of our new scorecard or at least make it’s use optional at the discretion of the show committees and judges. Fortunately, that resolution was soundly defeated and the new rules were set to take effect as of April 1, 2008. Many of us felt, it‘s about time!! Another assault on the scorecard was brought forward at the 2008 Convention which was resoundingly defeated (the same just happened again at the 2009 Convention in Reno last month, again defeated almost unanimously).
Here's the lowdown: There are seven areas where our horses are now judged in the Breeding and In Hand division classes, which are 1) Arabian Type; 2) Quality, Balance, Substance at the Walk; 3) Legs and Feet; 4) Head; 5) Neck and Shoulder; 6) Back, Loin and Hip and 7) Movement. In each category, there are 20 points possible per horse. A score of 1-6 per category is considered below average, a score of 7-13 is considered average, a score of 14-17 is considered good and a score of 18-20 is considered excellent. Your highest total possible score is 140 (for each judge).
Additionally, judges can assess penalty point deductions (from -1 to -5 points) for things like poor manners, undue stress, inhumane treatment, excessive use of the whip, a horse that appears intimidated by it’s handler or excessive grease/oil on the horse.
Now, keeping in mind that under a scored Halter system horses are being judged against the breed standard as opposed to against each other, the option also exists to have the horses come in the ring for judging one at a time like we do in Sport Horse In Hand classes, as opposed to them all being in the ring together where they can be comparatively judged. Personally, I love that idea and AHA has chosen the “exit the ring procedure” option for US Nationals in October these last two years, which has been fabulous!! Those classes have been beautiful, far less stressful than the traditional Nationals Halter classes and a whole lot less intimidation of the horses. Hopefully we can eventually get all shows required to run their Halter classes in this manner.
Now, looking back when we were only one month into the new Arabian Scoring System there were already unhappy exhibitors with judges seeming to give either far too low scores for the quality of horses or unrealistically high scores to some horses, as well as those who appeared to be judging horses against each other (with scores reflecting that by uniformity across the board, rather than judging each individual attribute of each horse) instead of against the breed standard.
Remember, these scores are to be given based on each horse against the entire pool of Arabian horses in the nation, not just against those sharing the show ring. Therefore, you would hypothetically expect those horses, real show horses, to be consistently in the above average, or good, category. In the early going here, that didn’t necessarily seem to be happening, though it has gotten better over these past 20 months.
Were some judges gaming the scorecard? Indeed it would appear so and some sadly still are. I have friends who have shown under this system who had their horses low-balled by a few different judges ~ there is NEVER any reason for that. Some folks made a decision not to compete with their horses at AHA approved shows in Halter classes until the mess gets straightened out...and then there's the case of the annual Scottsdale show, which has chosen this year (and next for 2010 as well) to not use the Scoring System. Those classes are of course not qualifying classes for either the Region 7 Championships or any of the National shows, but of course most folks who show Halter at Scottsdale go for the promotion of sales and breedings. If you want to qualify, you go to another show or another Region.
It remains somewhat of a "wait and see" as far as the scorecard goes, and there is still a great deal of funny business going on, but it is a step in the right direction. We're keeping our collective fingers crossed because, as we all know, nothing worthwhile is ever easy to achieve!